House Problems by Decade

Posted by Ben Thompson on 03.24.11

I recently had coffee with Bill Moss, Firm Foundation Home Inspection, LLC (616-260-0779,  An interesting part of our conversation was about common problems he sees in homes every day.

Every era of homes brings with it unique advances as well as problems.  Today I just wanted to highlight 1-2 per decade, from 1960 – 2000.

1960: 3-wire grounded “Romex” electrical wire came on the scene in 1950 but well into the 1960s some electricians were still not using the ground wire.  I personally live in a home built in 1968 that had many non-grounded outlets.  Today, we want to make sure that we at least retrofit the “wet” areas of the home like the kitchen, bathroom, & outdoor outlets meet the current code that requires them to be GFCI protected (and therefore also grounded).  Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets help protect people from electrocution and may save electronics if a house is struck by lighting.  It’s the safer way to live.

1970: Dow came out with a laminated drywall system that had two layers of drywall that were glued together.  Eventually, the glue failed and the ceilings bowed.  We repair a ceiling like this at least once per year as part of a larger project.

1980: FRT – Fire-Retardant-Treated plywood thermal degradation effected nearly 750,000 multi-family housing units.  Solar radiation caused the plywood to de-laminate, bubble, and sink between roof trusses.  I define what went wrong in the 80s by Decora cabinets and laminate counter tops with oak trim on the edge.

1990: EIFS – Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems were designed to be the primary and only barrier to keeping water out of the wall system on these “synthetic stucco” homes.  Most other types of siding systems depend on multiple layers of protection to keep water out of a home.  Thousands of homes had thousands of dollars in water and mold damage.  Also, “Tyvek” and other breathable air-infiltration and water barriers started making their way on the scene and are now code-required.  From the photo at the top of this article, you can see how many builders neglected to use housewrap on the gable end of their homes b/c they didn’t care if air migrated into the attic of a home.  What they failed to appreciate is how exposed to the weather the gable end is and how much water degraded homes because of their lack of concern.  This was one of Bill’s very hot button issue.  Thank you Patty McDaniel for use of the above photo.

More personally, I define the 90s by brass hardware (that peeled off in a few years), white thermofoil cabinetry, and Corian counter tops.

2000: Poor water management from the 90s created mold litigation into the early 2000s.  It will take a little more distance for me to declare what we have done for our clients is now out dated.  I have my ideas on what some passe items will be, but for now, I plead the 5th.

If you’d like to know more about building history stay connected to the Better Building category of the blog.  Don’t be too harsh with the history, friends, because hindsight is genius and everyday is a school day.

Topics: Love Where You Live, Thompson Times, Care & Maintenance, drywall, home maintenance, insulation, water management, house problems, mold